Posts Tagged ‘Rotted Journalism’

Sociopaths to the Left of Me, Clowns to the Right…

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Apparently Tom Coburn is so interested in delaying healthcare reform he’s willing to risk the temporary defunding of the Defense Department to do so:

Way back on December 2nd, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) filed a single-payer amendment to the Senate health care bill, which was supposed to come up for a vote this afternoon. But at the last moment, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), at the behest Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), demanded that the entire 700-plus page amendment be read aloud on the floor. That’s happening now.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a 10 or 12 hour dilatory tactic. But not today. Today, Democrats were planning to file for cloture on the Defense Appropriations bill, in order to get it passed by Friday before midnight when department funding runs out. If the entire amendment is read aloud, it’s likely that the Senate won’t be able to pass the defense bill until Saturday at the earliest, and would have to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep money flowing.

“The only thing that Sen. Coburn’s stunt achieves is to stop us from moving to the DoD appropriations bill that funds our troops – not exactly the kind of Christmas gift that our troops were expecting from Dr. No,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Sigh. On the one hand, it’s easy to read stories like this and perk up. Hypocrites!, you think. If Democrats had done this to stop, say, Social Security privatization the entire Republican Party would have been anywhere they could get their face declaring that Democrats were traitors who didn’t care about the troops! And you’d be right, of course, but then you stop and think and, well, what does that get you?

This is a great example of how Republican mendacity and media stupidity intersect to fundamentally tilt the field against progressives. On the one hand, the opposing party is made up of completely amoral sociopaths who have no problem being brazenly hypocritical or opening lying to advance their goals. Hell, look at all of the talk radio show hosts hawking gold merchant scams. That’s how they treat their own audience! You think they give a damn about telling the truth to anyone else if it costs them a marginal dollar? So what do you do, call them out on it? Well there’s no harm in trying, but it’s just not going to permeate the noise unless it takes hold as part of the larger media narrative, but that’s never going to happen because everyone knows Republicans love the troops and would never ever do something like that right? Or if it does get mentioned, no one would put two and two together and point out that that meme is total bullshit, and that Republicans are shameless opportunists first, last, and always. And no, you can’t return the favor when they’re in the majority, because the media will have a field day with that, because Democrats Hate the Military.

So the next time you’re ready to piss in somebody’s cornflakes because Democrats are bitches, take a second and consider what they’re playing against. After all, the Detroit Lions could hang with the 2007 Patriots if the referees let them get away with pass interference on every play too.

Does the New York Times Have Standards?

Monday, May 25th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Clark Hoyt is the omsbudman at The New York Times, a fact which may explain why the intellectual standards of that paper have slipped so badly. Given the recent criticism and scandals surrounding the paper, it was inevitable that Hoyt would weigh in, and his effort is both infuriating, but at the same time telling of the way elite media thinks about both itself and its critics, as Hoyt strikes a dismissive tone right from the beginning. This is the column’s opening:

IT has been a busy week or two for the ethics police — those within The Times trying to protect the paper’s integrity, and those outside, ready to pounce on transgressions by Times journalists.

Did you catch that? If your concerned about the intellectual standards of prominent writers and the influential corporations that publish them, you’re the “ethics police,” which I suppose is sort of like the grammar police. It’s an incredibly dismissive way to treat critics that more than implies that you don’t really take them, or their criticism, seriously. And the rest of the column flows in essntially the same manner, as Hoyt is arrogant, dismissive, defensive, and downright misleading throughout. Here’s how Hoyt addresses McMegan’s recent reporting that Times business writer Edmund Andrews omitted the very relevant facts of his wife’s poor financial history and his own prior tenuous footing from his book detailing his struggle with subprime mortages:

Andrews is an excellent reporter who explains complex issues clearly. There are plenty of them to cover without assigning him to those that could directly affect whether he keeps his own house. He is too close to that story.

He can’t be too cautious. On Thursday, he came under attack from a blogger for The Atlantic for not mentioning in his book that his wife had twice filed for bankruptcy — the second time while they were married, though Andrews said it involved an old loan from a family member. He said he had wanted to spare his wife any more embarrassment. The blogger said the omission undercut Andrews’s story, but I think it was clear that he and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no. Still, he should have revealed the second one, if only to head off the criticism.

Here’s Brad Delong’s response, which I basically agree with 110%:

  1. “a weblogger” has a name: Megan McArdle of the Atlantic Monthly. She deserves credit for her work.
  2. “a weblogger” has a reputation–a considerably better reputation at this point than Clark Hoyt or the New York Times, I believe. When something appears attached to Megan McArdle, I know that she is smart, has worked hard, and is trying her best to get the story right. Readers deserve to know who Clark Hoyt is pitting himself and his organization against so that they can make their own assessments of credibility. I know that Megan McArdle tries (if not always succeeds). I don’t know about the reporters and editors of the New York Times–indeed, I know that at times they work hard to get the story wrong, witness Elizabeth Bumiller, “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad”.
  3. At the time when Hoyt wrote he knew or ought to have known that Patrica Berreiro’s second bankruptcy discharged $29,000 in family loans, $7997.25 in lawyers’ bills, $3604 in telecommunications bills, $9065 in medical bills, $5377 in credit-card debt, $188 in veterinary bills, and $83 in fines from the Los Angeles Public Library. To write that it “involved an old loan from a family member” is remarkably incomplete.
  4. Megan McArdle’s point is that dysfunctions in mortgage lending have next to nothing to do with Edmund Andrews’s personal financial crisis. The crisis comes from the radical disjunction between the style of life Andrews and his wife expect and Andrews’s income–$10,000 a month, $3,500 in taxes, $4,000 (in the book; $5,000 in the bankruptcy filing) in alimony and child support, leaving $2,500 a month to live on for all expenses. If Andrews hadn’t bought his house in Silver Spring he would, McArdle believes, be in a worse financial position right now–for one thing, his landlord would have evicted him. I think she is probably right, and that Patricia Berreiro’s second bankruptcy is telling evidence for McArdle’s position. Hoyt’s claim that “I think it was clear that [Andrews] and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no” appears to me to be a deliberate attempt to miss the entire point.

I would just highlight the way in which Hoyt defers to what Andrews claims to be the case, without so much as noting that his claims have been disputed. You only do that if you’re trying to mislead your readers. Period.

Hoyt then moves on to the Maureen Dowd plagiarism issue:

I do not think Dowd plagiarized, but I also do not think what she did was right.

Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, said journalists collaborate and take feeds from each other all the time. That is true with news articles, but readers have a right to expect that even if an opinion columnist like Dowd tosses around ideas with a friend, her column will be her own words. If the words are not hers, she must give credit.

Let’s unpack that for a second; Hoyt thinks writers must give credit for words that are not their own, which Dowd did not, but he doesn’t “think” that Maureen Dowd plagiarized Josh Marshall. But of course, passing off someone else’s words as your own without citation is the very definition of plagiarism. This is nothing more than an instance of argument-by-denying-English, a rather strange thing for a print journalist to do. It’s entirely possible that Dowd unintentionally plagiarized Marshall, but unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism, and to make such an assumption you have to concede that Dowd plagiarized Marshall by definition.

The larger point here is simply to note that, in addressing some legitimate issues that have come up recently, Hoyt does the reading public a great service. Not because he’s keeping journalists honest or looking out for the ethical and intellectual standards of the paper, but because it’s plainly obvious that the point of the column is to dismiss, denigrate, and white-wash the criticisms leveled at the Times, and to “defend” the corporation by sheer spin.

Very Serious People these are.

The Real Problem With MoDo

Monday, May 18th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

To start out on a fair note, I do not think that Maureen Dowd intentionally plagiarized Josh Marshall, if for no other reason than that TPM is not an obscure website. Josh Marshall has won a Polk Award for his work at TPM, writers at TPM are professional journalists, and the site has become a major news source that lots and lots of people read. I just don’t believe that anyone would think they could get away with so blatantly stealing material from the site. I tend to think Brad Delong is probably on the right track here:

You want my guess as to what happened with Maureen Dowd? Last Friday night Maureen Dowd was running out of steam on her column. So she went and grabbed a paragraph from Josh Marshall: this one:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq…

She pasted it at the bottom of her unfinished draft. She began editing it to make it her own “writing”. She replaced “we were” with “the Bush crowd,” producing:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq…

Then something called her away. Later she came back to the column. But she had forgotten that she had not yet made enough changes to make it her own “writing.” So she double-spaced. She typed out a final paragraph. And she sent the column off.

That’s pretty plausible, and pretty reasonable, but I’m still pretty burnt up about the thing anyway, for a couple of reasons. First of all, MoDo isn’t copping to it. Her explanation both brings the required derision of bloggers (“who, me? No, I don’t read blogs. I just have friends who do behind my back.), and is just very implausible. Even if you give it the most charitable reading plausible, she’d still be guilty of shamelessly passing off her friend’s thoughts as her own.

But more than that, it’s really annoying that this comes all of one day after The Washington Post published another Op-Ed complaining about how Teh Google And Teh Bloggerz are unfairly using their content. Aside from the fact that the column made little sense on its own merits, what it didn’t feel like mentioning was exactly what MoDo just laid bare; these elite outlets lift people’s material all of the time. They lift from bloggers, less known journalistic entities, and even from each other. You change the words a bit, maybe add a smidgeon of new material, then pass it off without credit or citation, as though it were your own, original work. And, for the most part, that’s perfectly fine. That’s how the industry works. The blogosphere isn’t that much different, aside from the fact that the ability to link makes it much easier to credit other people for their work. But still, arguments are lifted all the time, and in perfectly good faith. There’s only so many ways to make the same point after all.

But in the bizarro-world of elite journalism, taking a story, changing the wording, and reprinting it as if it were your own is standard operating procedure, but excerpting someone’s story on line, citing your source, and linking back to the original work is stealing. That’s the real problem here.

We’re Pretty Much Screwed

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I don’t know what the hell happened today, but even by contemporary standards of American journamalism, today was unusually dreadful. Aside from Jeffrey Goldberg’s continued access to the pages of “elite” publications, “dogged journalist” David Gregory decided to start his Meet The Press discussion between Michael Steele and Tim Kaine with a question about…the President’s Notre Dame commencement address. Because obviously this is the most serious issue of the day. Meanwhile, over on ABC, This Week decided to stock their panel 3-2 with Republicans, and have the right represented by Liz Cheney (because there’s no conflict of interest in her arguing against possible prosecutions relating to torture, right?), Steve Schmitt (a political strategist who headed up the most objectively dishonest Presidential campaign in recent memory), and documented liar George Will. Obviously ABC cares about making sure their viewers are well informed. Back at The New York Times, in the midst of a fantastic column about Pentagon abuses under Donald Rumsfeld, Frank Rich reminds us that the television media continues to completely ignore the Pentagon military analyst scandal they were complicit in, even though the Times reporter who uncovered the story won a Pulitzer for it. And Harold Jackson of The Philadelphia Inquirer responds to criticism from professional journalists working for the Inquirer’s sister paper bloggers by confirming the editorial stance of the Inquirer that partisan hacks being recommended for disbarrment “respected legal scholars” can write anything in the page’s of that “journalistic” publication, so long as it’s on the opinion page.

Seriously, what has happened to American journalism? And for that matter, with the new revelations coming out about how torture was directly linked to the administration’s efforts to sell the Iraq war on inaccurate claims to the public, why isn’t anyone asking whether or not the journalists who bought these claims at face value and cheerled the march to war have an inherent conflict of interest in discussing whether or not they should be investigated now. It seems pretty straightforward to me.

On Pelosi

Friday, May 15th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I really don’t know what Nancy Pelosi knew about the Bush torture regime, and to be honest, I’m not even entirely sure what it would mean if she were briefed about waterboarding in October of 2002. The meeting was reportedly so secretive that members of Congress weren’t even allowed to take notes, so I imagine it would have been a violation of the law for her to have said anything about what was discussed. On the other hand, it’s really rather ridiculous that anyone is getting worked up over someone having the gall to suggest the CIA might have lied to Congress. I mean, it’s not like the CIA doesn’t have a fairly distinguished history of…lying to Congress. But Republicans throw out some attacks on Pelosi, and all of a sudden journalists are more concerned about Pelosi “attacking” the CIA than whether or not…the CIA lied to Congress and broke the law by torturing detainees.

The press corps is going to be the death of us all.

Silly Blogger, Intellectual Standards are for Unserious People

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The more media criticism I’ve done, particularly of newspapers, the more the thing I keep coming back to is a pretty simple, unbelievably scary, fact of American journalism; elite journalists are held to lower standards of intellectual rigor than the average college freshman in a general requirement composition class. If you slap “opinion” on an article, newspaper editors will declare that you can say absolutely anything, and that they’re powerless to demand even the most basic of intellectual requirements from your writing (especially if you’re under contract with them, which is itself a very pernicious fact of the business). Arguments can be incoherent, you can misstate (or make up), the “facts” you employ to support your arguments, and editors, especially Fred Hiatt, will declare it all part of the “exchange of ideas” or some similar nonsense. If we’re to take people like Hiatt at their word, professional norms of journalism require them to publish writing that couldn’t pass a freshman level course at any reputable university.

Only in this sort of working environment could Richard Cohen get away with writing this:

Cheney says he once had the memos in his files and has since asked that they be released. He’s got a point. After all, this is not merely some political catfight conducted by bloggers, although it is a bit of that, too. Inescapably, it is about life and death — not ideology, but people hurling themselves from the burning World Trade Center. If Cheney is right, then let the debate begin

A whopping two weeks after he wrote this:

Yet the debate over torture has been infected with silly arguments about utility: whether it works or not. Of course it works — sometimes or rarely, but if a proverbial bomb is ticking, that may just be the one time it works. I refer you to the 1995 interrogation by Philippine authorities of Abdul Hakim Murad, an al-Qaeda terrorist who served up extremely useful information about a plot to blow up airliners when he was told that he was about to be turned over to Israel’s Mossad. As George Orwell suggested in “1984,” everyone has his own idea of torture.

If the threat of torture works — if it has worked at least once — then it follows that torture itself would work. Some in the intelligence field, including a former CIA director, say it does, and I assume they say this on the basis of evidence. They can’t all be fools or knaves. This is also the position of Dick Cheney, who can sometimes be both, but in this, at least, he has some support.

America should repudiate torture not because it is always ineffective — nothing is always anything — or because others loathe it but because it degrades us and runs counter to our national values. It is a statement of principle, somewhat similar to why we do not tap all phones or stop and frisk everyone under the age of 28. Those measures would certainly reduce crime, but they are abhorrent to us.

In other words, two weeks ago Richard Cohen thought the debate over the Bush torture regime was getting side-tracked by the irrelevant question of whether or not the torture techniques worked. Today, Richard Cohen thinks that there’s no debate happening over torture, and we need to start asking ourselves if maybe torture might be an effective way to gather information. And there’s not the slightest bit of acknowledgement whatsoever of his prior column. It’s the absolute height of intellectual dishonesty, straight from the pages of one of our premiere Serious Journalistic Enterprises.

Here’s an idea for some hedge fund manager with a smidgeon of patriotism who wants to rehabilitate his image somewhat; short the Washington Post. Your nation will be eternally grateful.

Troubled Inquirer Hires…John Yoo?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The Philadelphia Inquirer is a newspaper looking at serious financial problems. But that’s ok, because for the bargain basement price about 4 times the going rate of $1,750 a column, the Inquirer has retained the writing services of noted legal scholar soon to be disbarred war criminal and chief architech of the Bush administration torture regime John Yoo. Championship!

Now, there is a potential civic value to printing an op-ed from Yoo in a major newspaper, as Tommy pointed out over in the forum. Had the Inquirer landed a column from Yoo outlining his “thinking” on the legality of what he was authorizing, making the case for his position, or just providing a glimpse into the mind of an institutional sadist, there would have been real news value there, and the Inquirer would have landed a real coup. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Inquirer has contracted Yoo to write a regular column for them, and his first effort (giving Obama advice on selecting judicial nominees) had nothing to do with torture whatsoever. The Inquirer just seems to think that Yoo is a valuable voice its readers are better for being exposed to. Or, conversely, they realize that hiring Yoo would generate the most amount of links they’ve ever gotten (which is why there are no links in this post, ftr), and could be good for business at the margins. Which isn’t wrong, per se, but if that’s true, it’s just more proof that journalists should really stop pretending that they’re quasi-civil servants, and that the country just can’t survive without them.